Like a chamelon, the religious right changes its agenda |

Like a chamelon, the religious right changes its agenda

Rev. Jack Van Ens

A chameleon, an Old World lizard, has survived eons. It possesses the ability, when predators creep near, to quickly change its colors and blend into backdrops. In our parlance, a chameleon describes a fast change artist, a con man. He hawks a new pitch, replacing bedrock truths formerly espoused.Since my boyhood in the 1950s, the Religious Right has changed its social agenda, blending with shifting public opinion. Most of those who identify themselves with Jerry Falwell, who once led the Moral Majority, would strenuously deny they have caved in to public pressures.The Religious Right asserts the real religious chameleons are Christians who accommodate their faith to scientific advances. Such progressive Christians, for instance, realize that Christ’s virgin conception is a biological impossibility. They interpret belief in Mary’s virgin conception as naïve and pre-scientific. How much brainier to claim that the “Virgin Mary who conceived Jesus” is a literary metaphor ancient writers used. It’s picture language, progressive Christians say, who accommodate Christian belief to scientific fact. The “virgin conception” suggests how God unpredictably works.The Religious Right takes pride in conserving and protecting orthodox faith from disfiguring acids of modernity. They defend “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” [those apostolic believers Christ selected to announce the Gospel to the world] (Jude 3). Orthodox faith’s guardians strenuously argue that they preserve unchanging biblical morality in a compromising, changing world.When I grew up, the Religious Right denounced birth control used by professional women in the workforce who left homemaking careers. Those divorced were scorned as blatantly mimicking the break-up of marriage Hollywood graphically celebrated. Teenage temptations of necking and petting led to illegitimate births, Religious Right preachers warned, demanding we forsake the fleshpots of sin.Since the 1950’s, homosexuality and abortion are agenda items of choice for the Religious Right, replacing the former diabolical trio: birth control, divorce, and teenage groping on dates. Why this massive change in the social agenda of the Religious Right? Where I grew up in the conservative Midwest, homosexuality was never, never mentioned. Spinsters taught in Christian schools I attended but none admitted they were lesbians. With the introduction of the pill, birth control became accepted. It stymied unwanted pregnancies. It lowered “bastard births,” as those born out-of-wedlock were described. Sons and daughters of prominent leaders in the Religious Right divorced at roughly the same pace as the unbelieving crowd. Consequently, branding birth control, divorce and “going too far” on dates as sin still stood on moral ledgers. But public rhetoric against these sins became muted.The Religious Right’s moral agenda sharply changed when they heard the Great Communicator speak and had difficulty differentiating his mellifluous voice from God’s. Religious Reaganites drifted far from their earlier agenda. They fervently supported Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood star who was divorced and didn’t regularly attend church worship. His children didn’t typify the well-scrubbed, wholesome American family that Christian leaders should head.Adoring Reagan, the Religious Right turned their back on one of their own. Another president admitted his sin as a spiritual adulterer who lusted occasionally after women other than his wife. He grew peanuts on a Georgia farm in a southern agrarian culture that fostered old-time revivals. He identified himself as a born-again Sunday school teacher, exactly what the Religious Right admired. He wasn’t a redneck rube in Dixieland. Jimmy Carter spoke, and both blacks and white Northerners listened.Carter, from his first day in office, was doomed as a one-term president because the Religious Right shuffled its religious deck, believing it could win at the national table with the cards Reagan dealt. Reagan promised legislation curtailing abortions, moving the Ten Commandments into the public square, allowing Christian prayer in public schools and protecting the traditional family. His rhetoric outdistanced real accomplishment. He talked a good Religious Right moral line. Reagan promised the Religious Right more political power than they wielded during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Their agenda is shaped more by hunger for power than religious values.The most evident sell-out on the Religious Right’s agenda involves their reshaping of how the world will end in the Middle East. What the Religious Right support now is foreign to the scenario they fabricated during the Cold War years.As a youngster I was assured that the end of the world was near. The Religious Right matched biblical prophecy with current events unfolding in Russia. How they interpreted the Bible, lining up prophecy with Middle East unrest, has proved embarrassingly wrong. God’s plan for the wrap-up of the ages moved into overdrive, maintained the Religious Right, with the formation of the political state of Israel in 1948. With the reuniting of Jerusalem in 1967, surely a sign of history’s end, the Bible’s prediction of the re-built Temple became rock-solid. Forecasters assured the faithful of Christ’s coming again.The Religious Right identified the Antichrist’s legions with godless Communist tyranny, which Reagan referred to as “the Evil Empire” and “the focus of all evil in the world.” But the Soviets suffered a collapse. Knowing most Americans are oblivious to history, the Religious Right switched the evil empire from Russia to Iraq. Iraq, instead of Russia, became the dreaded biblical “foe from the North.” Cozy with national leaders who waged war against Iraq, the Religious Right protects its political might. Doc: chameleonThe Rev. Jack R. Van Ens heads the tax exempt, nonprofit Creative Growth Ministries, enhancing Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations. Portraying Jonathan Edwards, Van Ens leads worship on Jan. 15 at the Dillon Community Church at 8:30 and 11 a.m. and in the evening at 6 p.m. He returns as Edwards and Thomas Jefferson debating who Jesus really is.Vail, Colorado

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